Philip K Dick: The literary gift that keeps on giving to the screen

Philip K Dick: The literary gift that keeps on giving to the screen

0 comments 📅18 September 2017, 00:29

Amazon’s The Man In the High Castle, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and the current anthology TV show Electric Dreams all have one thing in common: they were all inspired by the work of legendary American sci-fi author Phillip K Dick. Given the popularity of his work, we dive into his substantial back catalogue to see what else could be adapted for the screen… 

Born in 1928, Phillip K Dick is best known for his short story work. He wrote 121 short stories in his lifetime; many of which were published via magazines, which were much more common in the ’40s and ’50s. The Hugo Award-winning author wrote both novels and novellas, and his work varies wildly in length. Many of the novels contain enough ideas to fuel a whole host of movies and he’s easily one of the greatest influences on American genre TV to this day.  Let’s take a look at some stories ripe for adaptation.

Set in an alternate version of the US called the North American Confederation, it’s a world where psychic powers are common and trips to the moon are every day. It focuses on a man called Joe Chip, who spends his days suppressing other people’s psychic ability to enforce privacy.  Joe’s life becomes stranger when he meets a lady who can undo time.

The pair uncover a conspiracy built by people who are trapped in a strange half-existence. The deeper they probe, the more reality begins to fall apart and the more rapidly the world changes around them. It’s a complicated, layered story that would appeal to fans of both Twin Peaks and Ricky & Morty. If done right, it could easily become a cult hit.

We Can Build You
Seen by some as pre-cursor to ‘Do Androids Dreams of Electric Sheep’, the story that inspired Bladerunner, We Can Build You is a much more intimate take on the idea of a world in which mankind has started making mechanical copies of itself. 

The story focuses on the invention of simulacra that can think like human beings. Though the tale is nominally about space exploration and invention, it’s really an examination of mental illness.

Think Westworld meets crime drama Perception, with a much more everyday setting.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Despite the supernatural sounding name, this odd tale is more a tale of environmental catastrophe and the sublimation of the human psyche. It’s set in a future where the overcrowding is absolute and the Earth has become so warm that it’s almost impossible to go anywhere.

Mankind has instead begun to explore inner-space, mostly through mind altering drugs that allow people to share each other’s experiences.  It’s a dense story within a story, and ideal fodder for fans of movies like Inception and Altered States. 

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
Another surreal tale of reality shifting drugs and altered perceptions, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is also a highly relevant tale of police surveillance, social control and totalitarian regimes. 

It’s the story of Jason Taverner, a genetically enhanced pop-star and TV host who is the darling of the police state he lives in. A strange encounter with a fan causes Hart to become a non-person in a world where identity is everything.  It’s every bit the match for an episode of Black Mirror in terms of story telling and a treasure trove of odd ideas for any TV or movie producer.

Doctor Bloodmoney, Or how we got along after the bomb
Written in 1963 during the height of the cold war, Doctor Bloodmoney is pretty weird and a forgotten classic. Dr Bruno Bluthgeld has turned the world into a land of mutants and violence thanks to a badly timed nuclear test.  The last remaining chunk of humanity orbits the Earth in a dwindling space station, broadcasting messages to anyone who will listen.

The story is packed with symbiotic mutants, travelling robot salesmen, struggling communities of survivors and a crazy scientist with god-like powers. Think the TV version of Preacher meets Mad Max via The Walking Dead and you get the idea.

The Father-Thing
This spooky short-story is about a boy who suspects his father is an alien.

Not only does it cover Dick’s favourite themes identity, family and altered perception, it’s also a gripping thriller with some great twists. There’s just enough there to make a movie, though it would be one that would have audiences arguing about the ending for years to come.

They are many, many, many more, but we’ve just tried to give you the highlights here. Treat yourself to a compilation of Phillip K Dick’s work and you’ll uncover so many more. Or, given how much of his work is used as inspiration, just wait a while; someone will adapt his work into a TV show or movie, because they always do. 

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